June 27, 2019
Criminal charges were recently filed against an inspector that falsified dozens of inspection reports. Because of the lack of data-driven inspection processes today, this news on its own is not terribly surprising. What is surprising is the organization affected, SpaceX. One of the most technologically sophisticated and future-forward companies in the world fell prey to falsified reports, due to decades-old, legacy processes. How? The answer is as simple as cut and paste.
Engineer, James Smalley admitted to photocopying and then cutting and pasting an inspector’s signature onto inspection reports. Like many organizations around the world, the vital practice of inspection reporting used for this activity in partnership with SpaceX was conducted using a self-reported, manual pen and paper process, leading to this damning fraudulent activity. The parts involved were “ITAR restricted” (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) which is a class of parts that are under rigorous regulatory control. Compliance with ITAR is a key priority for aerospace and defense companies to ensure the security of the products they manufacture and the safety of employees and communities. By forging the signature, Smalley was able to manually override the ITAR process through fraudulent signatures for months upon end, which put thousands if not millions of people at potential risk of danger and loss.
It boggles the mind to think that even a company whose mission is to build vehicles that can travel out of our planet’s atmosphere to deploy various satellites and payloads with precise measurements that inform decisions resulting in bold missions and new scientific discoveries still overlooked a simple yet vital component of inspecting to ensure safety measures are met and upheld. It is the reliance on outdated paper-based processes that is far too common in inspections, which enabled this deception and potential danger. Had the use of a scalable and digital inspection platform been used this likely would not have happened.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that digitizing the inspection process is more than putting a form on a tablet. True transformation and security are gained when digital inspection solutions utilize artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and data analytics to make the inspection process data-driven. Data-driven inspections are what can stop this type of fraud and unmitigated risk in the future.
A true data-driven process brings to an organization, and its employees alike, a level of data transparency that has never been available to us before. This means that every employee, manager, executive, and stakeholder has the same access to all of the data related to an inspection via one electronic platform. Changes or inconsistencies become evident quickly as dashboards and data reports are instantly made available to all stakeholders. This data access impacts the decisions across an organization through increased accountability.
Practical use of data-driven inspections that our clients leverage every day is the ability to prioritize inspections based on the risk to the community or history of violations. Managers can send inspectors to sites with the biggest potential impact on the community, or those that may have a higher rate of infractions, making time in the field more productive. Once in the field, inspectors have access to full case files in the field via mobile devices to help put real-time issues into context.
Very importantly, with all of the data being fed into a central platform, it’s harder to change one piece of the process. For example, if the RFID tags of vehicles are being checked along a route picking up and dropping off materials, no one driver can claim they are hauling more than what is actually on the truck (and subsequently getting paid more). There is a record of the truck’s weight at every step of the process. The cookie crumbs become more easy to find, and harder to sweep under the metaphorical rug. In the case of the SpaceX example, users have role-based access to the system for sign-offs, eliminating the risk of one bad actor forging another’s sign-offs.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see how inefficient paper-based inspection processes are and how much they open up an organization to security risks, fraud and in SpaceX’s circumstance, expensive fines and unfavorable press as well as hamper bottom line revenues. My call to action is to implore organizations to realize that this technology is available today and needs to be embraced by organizations of all sizes to ensure we’re using modern solutions to provide a new level of oversight that will keep our businesses and communities safer.
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